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How the ‘Black Tax’ Has Affected Homeownership for Black Americans

U.S.How the ‘Black Tax’ Has Affected Homeownership for Black Americans

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Property is generally worth less if it’s owned by a Black American. That sobering fact, cemented by 150 years of assessment data, underpins inequality today.

Black Americans’ properties have been undervalued by home appraisers and overvalued by tax assessors. That double punch has left Black homeowners more prone to falling behind on their taxes and, ultimately, to dispossession. One such case involved a Black landowner in North Carolina who lost his land in 1920. That loss affected the family line across generations, and his great-great grandson, George Floyd, was murdered by a police officer after a phone call to the authorities in Minneapolis about a counterfeit $20 bill one century later.

A book published this week, “The Black Tax,” explains how the case of Floyd’s great-great grandfather was not unusual under a system that crystallized soon after Black Americans began acquiring property. Black Americans remain the only racial group with a homeownership rate below 50 percent.

I asked the author, Andrew Kahrl, a history professor at the University of Virginia, about his research. This interview was edited for clarity and length.

Black Americans owned more than 16 million acres by 1910. On the surface, that looks like a success. What lies beneath that?

It was a remarkable achievement in the face of enormous odds. By the turn of the 20th century, though, a clear pattern of over-taxation of Black-owned property was apparent across the South. More deviously, local tax authorities were quick to auction off Black-owned land for unpaid taxes, especially when the land in question had become valuable.

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